Monday, September 15, 2014

Special Collections Fossickings 42: Ben Lomond: still making headlines

Image courtesy of the photographer: Dr Maxine Newlands
The CWA Hall on Walker Street seemed an unlikely venue last month for a standing-room only crowd of anti-nuclear campaigners. They had gathered to hear former Japanese Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, who had been in office at the time of the Fukushima disaster. That terrible event and its aftermath led him to become a passionate opponent of the mining and use of uranium in nuclear reactors around the world. At the end of a long international and Australian tour, here he was in Townsville. Why?

If you have been following local news in recent months you will know that a particularly rich uranium deposit lies just 50km west of Townsville. Indeed, if you were living in Townsville around 35 years ago this would hardly be news to you and the present agitation against proposals to re-open the mine might be producing feelings of deja-vu. For six years, from 1979 to 1985, the Ben Lomond deposit was frequently in the headlines, with matters reaching a climax in April 1980 when the company applied for a large lease of 2035 hectares.
Minatome Australia Pty. Ben Lomond Project: draft environmental impact statement (1983) (2 vols) NQ333.851099436 BEN
At this point the Townsville Regional Conservation Council (now the North Queensland Conservation Council) decided to take action. Then only six years old the Council had been monitoring the issue since 1978. In fact, as early as 1975 the Council had published a 5 page article – “Uranium: metal of menace” – unaware that French company Minatome had just been granted an authority to prospect at Ben Lomond.  But by 1979 the project was firmly on the Conservation Council’s radar and it was voicing concern about secrecy and procedure. Now it took the lead by lodging an objection to the lease application in the Charters Towers mining warden’s court. It was the first time in Queensland, and possibly in Australia, that uranium mining had been taken to such a court.
Townsville Regional Conservation Council. Newsletter (1975-1984) NQ333.72099436 P1, Volume 4, No6., October 1980.
In April 1981 the mining warden’s historic recommendation to reject the lease application was contentious, with no guarantees that government would comply. But other factors were coming into play. Reports appeared that torrential rain early in 1981 had allowed leakage from the ore stockpile to contaminate a nearby creek. In 1983 the incoming federal Labor government announced a ban on new uranium mines, formalising its three mines policy in 1984. French nuclear testing in the South Pacific further persuaded the government not to permit the export of material from Ben Lomond. An article in the Conservation Council’s March 1985 newsletter was headed “The last word on Ben Lomond?” The question mark has proved to be prophetic.
Townsville Regional Conservation Council. Newsletter (1975-1984) NQ333.72099436 P1, Volume 7, No.3, April 1984.
Anyone interested in the history of mining activity at Ben Lomond should excavate the rich lode of material in the North Queensland collection.  In addition to the hefty environmental impact studies produced in 1979 and 1983, the collection contains an almost complete run of the Conservation Council’s newsletters for this period as well as its substantial review of the issue published in 1984. It is a testament to the value of paper records and good guardianship.
Dames and Moore. Environmental impact study report. Ben Lomond uranium-molybdenum project North Queensland (1979) 2 vols. NQ 333.851099436 DAM  and  Townsville Regional Conservation Council. Comments on environmental impact of the Ben Lomond Project and review of draft EIS (1984) NQ 333.71099436 TOW

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